Recipe: Hummingbird Cake. Plus, tips on using cinnamon.
Cinnamon is perfectly at home in both sweet and savory dishes. It lends its flavor and aroma beautifully to whatever it is matched with and generally is easy on the wallet. Talk about a spice that has it all!
Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough say they love cinnamon because its versatility is unmatched. And they should know: Together, they have authored 15 cookbooks. “It ain’t just for muffins and cookies,” Weinstein told me, adding that ground cinnamon perks up everything from chili to stews to pork ribs.
Much of what is sold in the U.S. as cinnamon is actually more pungent, less delicate cassia.
“The best cinnamon comes from Vietnam. I prefer to buy cinnamon sticks and use a Microplane to grate my own,” says Art Smith, chef-owner of Art and Soul restaurant in D.C. and Table Fifty-Two in Chicago.
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He recommends buying spices from places that sell a lot. Volume sales mean the inventory is fresh. Smith’s favorite sources for spices include Whole Foods, the Spice House in Chicago and online sources such as Penzeys Spices Inc.
Whether you buy cinnamon ground or in sticks (also called “quills”), remember that cinnamon oil degrades quickly. Buy it in limited quantities and store it in a cool place, away from direct heat.
Cinnamon’s flavor comes out in cooking or baking, Weinstein says. “It’s not great just sprinkled ‘raw’ onto things. In fact, warm, moist environments provide the best results — cinnamon oils are carried wonderfully by fat. For instance, use walnut oil and ground cinnamon in a stew.”
Some of my own favorite ways to use cinnamon are:
• Dust some on top of rice pudding, custards or flans.
• Add to soups like butternut squash, to lamb stew, and to chili for depth and subtle flavor.
• Sprinkle some into eggplant dishes such as ratatouille or a Greek-style moussaka.
One of the best uses of cinnamon comes from Weinstein. He says he and Scarbrough are “convinced we sold a house once because we sprinkled ground cinnamon on a baking sheet and put it in a 175-degree oven just before the buyers came over.”
Cinnamon flavors Hummingbird Cake, one of the most requested desserts at Table Fifty-Two. Smith created the recipe.
ART SMITH’S HUMMINGBIRD CAKE
Yield: 12 servings
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped ripe bananas
1 cup drained, crushed pineapple
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped pecans
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 pound (about 4 ½ cups sifted) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the cake: Position racks in the center and bottom third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly butter two 9-inch round pans and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a bowl. In another bowl, stir or whisk the bananas, pineapple, oil, eggs and vanilla until combined. Do not use an electric mixer. Pour into the dry mixture and fold together with a large spatula just until smooth. Do not beat. Fold in the pecans. Divide batter between the pans and spread evenly. Bake until the cake springs back when pressed in the center, 30 to 35 minutes.
Transfer the pans to wire racks and cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks (remove the parchment paper, if using). Turn right side up and cool completely.
To make the icing: Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until combined. On low speed, gradually beat in the sugar, then the vanilla, to make a smooth icing.
Place 1 cake layer upside down on a serving platter. Spread with about 2/3 cup of the icing. Top with the second layer, right side up. Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. The cake can be prepared up to a day ahead and stored, uncovered, in the refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.
Reach Monica Bhide at Monica@monicabhide.com